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12                             THE GAY GENIUS

works and wrote to him about it. In his reply to Liu Mien he said: "I
have fallen upon evil days because of my writing, and sometimes I wish
to black out my intelligence, which unfortunately cannot be done. My
youngest son, Kuo, is beginning to write more beautifully than ever.
During my hours of boredom, living overseas, sometimes Kuo shows
me one of his compositions, and I am happy for days and enjoy my
food and my sleep better. This shows that literature is like gold and
jade or precious stones, which have an intrinsic value of their own that
cannot-be denied." In the pleasure it gives to the author during his free
creative activity, and in the happiness it gives to its readers, literature
j ustifies its own existence.

Su possessed an unusually generous talent, which broke all boundaries
and seemed to know no limitations. His poems were always fresh, not
like Wang Anshih's, which occasionally attained perfection. Su did not
have to attain such perfection. Where other poets were limited by poetic
diction and conventional themes, Su could write a poem on massage at
a bath-house, and he could incorporate slang and make it sound well
in a poem. Always it was that extra something' which others could not
do that compelled admiration from his fellow craftsmen. His chief
contribution to a special form of poetry, the tse, confined hitherto to
yearnings of the lovelorn, was that he could turn the metre into a
vehicle for discourse on Buddhism and philosophy, and he succeeded
La this almost impossibly risky task. Usually he 'wrote a little better
and a little faster than others, for he often had to compose poems after
dinner with people looking on. His thoughts were fresher and his
analogies and allusions more appropriate than those of other poets.
Once at a farewell dinner given him at Huangchow, a female enter-
tainer came up and asked him to write a poem on her shawl. Now he
had not heard of this entertainer, Li Chi, during his stay at Huangchow.
He asked her to grind the ink and took up the brush and wrote a simple
beginning:                                                                               !

Four years'has Tungpo lived at Huangchow,
Strange that he never mentioned Li Chi.

Then he stopped and went on talking with his guests. It was, in the
opinion of those present, a rather flat beginning, and besides, the poem
was not finished. Su went on eating, chatting and laughing. Li Chi
came up again and asked him to finish it. "Oh, I almost forgot," said
Su. He took up the brush again and dashed off the second half of the
quatrain:

Exactly like Tu Fu of the West River;

Of the best flower, begonia, he sang the least.